Sierra Leone cancels mining firm permits

Sierra Leone said Tuesday it was cancelling 57 mineral rights permits for mining and exploration companies, as it cracks down on mismanagement in a sector responsible for most of its export economy. 

The most prominent firm affected by the decision is Australia's Argosy Minerals Company, which has held three exploration licences in the country since 2011 for iron ore mining.

"The companies have either failed to renew their licences or have not undertaken any mining or exploration activity since their licences were issued despite repeated warnings," Director of Mines Peter Bangura told.

Argosy received a four-year exploration licence to explore a range of hills in Bembeye, southern Sierra Leone, covering 136.2 square kilometres (52.9 sq miles).

According to mining experts the Bembeye hills have a substantial reservoir of iron ore, inferior only to the vast deposits in Marampa and Tonkolili in the country's north.

Australia and China concerned

The majority of the affected companies have local investors but a sizable number are from China and other west African countries.

Fuelled by foreign investment in its mineral wealth, Sierra Leone had made considerable progress in recovering from a brutal 11-year civil war and its economy grew by 11.3 percent in 2013 -- until Ebola hit a year later.

Around 7,500 jobs were lost by the closure of two mines run by African Minerals and London Mining, which both went into administration.

Although poverty is widespread, Sierra Leone has mineral riches including diamonds, gold, bauxite, titanium ore and magnetite iron-ore, accounting for the overwhelming majority of its exports.